September Issue 2014
Having seen Faiza Butt’s art in print, online and on the cover of H.M. Naqvi’s novel, I looked forward to finally seeing them in person, when the Canvas Gallery announced an exhibition of her works this August, titled The Image of an Image.
Over the past few years, the Lahore-born, London-based artist has become a household name in the art scene here. She studied at the National College of Arts under Salima Hashmi, part of the same crop of art giants such as Imran Qureshi, Shahzia Sikandar and Rashid Rana, and later did her Masters at the Slade School of Fine Art.
As with many who are a product of two different worlds — part of both but never fully immersed (or the more politicised term, ‘assimilated’) in either — the artist draws heavily from her observations of the images around her, particularly from the media, and her works deal with themes of gender, identity and politics, with a smattering of pop culture imagery. But none of this is immediately obvious, as Butt’s use of soft, pastel colours and delicate, ink-formed dots give the works a whimsical, dream-like quality. They might revolve around heavy topics, but rather than being dark or angst-y, are outwardly ‘pretty,’ playful and almost always a little provocative and tongue-in-cheek.
For example, in ‘Everyday Like Today I,’ two middle-aged men in suits are kissing, as a mushroom cloud forms behind them. As with the topic of homosexuality, the response to the image would be polarising: reactionary or celebratory. Some may be angered by the display, others will see it as brave. But look closer and you’ll see the second man is merely a mirror reflection of the first, hinting at a troubling narcissism that is indifferent to or the cause of suffering, that merely fades into the background. It can also be seen as a commentary on society or a tabloid-style media’s obsession with people’s sexuality and private lives, when they should be concerning themselves with the real issues — of war, conflict and its causes.
‘Memories of Times that Never Were’ depicts a bearded, young man with a tattoo on his neck. Threatening and hyper-masculine images of snarling leopards, fighter dogs and a muscleman in the background are contrasted with images of a female gymnast, flowers and food. In addition, bullet marks puncture the canvas, two on the young man’s tattooed neck and one behind his pierced ear, suggesting that he is a victim. His appearance would anger both orthodox Muslims and xenophobic Europeans, since he doesn’t neatly fit into either world.
The Image of an Image is a response to the stereotypes that exist in our globalised world. The artist is asking the viewer to look closer and question their taken-for-granted assumptions about ‘the other;’ to observe the images in the media and the strangers in our midst (who we may never speak to ) in a different and more ‘human’ light.
On Faiza Butt’s canvas, one world neither conflicts nor exactly gels harmoniously with the other; it casually overlaps. Whether that is a result of tolerance or apathy, is for the viewer to decide.
This review was originally published in Newsline’s September 2014 issue
The writer is a journalist and former assistant editor at Newsline.